When I began my cooking career, I thought that fruit elements just don’t belong on the entrée plate. Please, no strawberry garnish a la South-of-the-Border. And excuse me from dishes that have fruit wrapped into their composition as they cook. But, as time went by, I looked back to Turkish Armenian cooking, one of my ethnic roots. The cuisine, and culture, stems from both the western Caucasus Mountains and Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey in the Middle East. In all those places, fruit has been grown and used fresh, dried, and fermented for thousands of years. In fact, archaeologists have recently determined that the oldest wine making happened in Armenia. I found myself appreciating that Old World cuisine and reveling in the glory of using a fruit element in or around the dish. Expanding that horizon, I now enjoy pineapple in a fish stew or paired with chicken on a satay stick. I relish spinach salad with strawberries or tomato salad with peaches, two American classics. I rely on the subtly sweet, deep flavor that dried fruit lends to braises and tajines.
And, I happily compose a warming meal salad of leafy winter greens with toasted walnuts and sliced pears. For protein presence, I briefly saute then hot-roast chicken breasts marinated in a honey/lemon/herb mix. Both the sauté/roast technique and the marinade work as well for quail, duck breasts, or pork chops to add aroma and color interest to the meat. The sprightly mustard vinaigrette gathers the elements together, and with a toasted loaf of crusty country bread, it’s a meal.
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped lemon rind
1/ 4 cup white wine
1/ 4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/ 2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/ 2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 pounds)
3/ 4 cup walnut halves or pieces
12 cups loosely packed assorted sturdy salad greens, such as frisee, little gems, red endive, watercress, radicchio
2 ripe but firm pears, such as Bartletts or Anjous
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, preferably white
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/ 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/ 4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/ 4 teaspoon kosher salt
Country-style French bread, for serving
1. In a dish large enough to hold the breasts side by side, whisk together the honey, thyme, lemon rind, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Trim off any extra fat from the breasts. Add the breasts to the dish, turn to coat them all around, and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning once. (Up to 3 hours is okay.)
2. Lightly toast the walnuts in a microwave oven or an ungreased skillet for 3 minutes, until toasty smelling and starting to brown. Remove and set aside.
3. When ready to cook the breasts, preheat the oven to 425 F.
4. Heat a stovetop-to-oven skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Without wiping off the marinade, add the breasts, skin side up, and cook until nicely browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the skillet, without turning over the breasts, to the oven and cook until burnished gold on top and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes. Remove and set aside for the juices to settle for 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Combine the dressing ingredients in a small jar that has a lid. Put on the lid and shake to mix.
6. Place the salad leaves on a large platter and toss with 2 teaspoons of the dressing. Arrange the walnuts and pear slices over the greens. Slice the breasts crosswise 1/4-inch thick and arrange them around the walnuts and pears. Drizzle the remaining dressing over all and serve with the bread, lightly toasted in the oven, on the side.